Dexter Boykin had specific future athletic plans when he first arrived at Fairfield High.
"I thought I was going to be about 6-8 and go to Duke," Boykin said.
He spent the first three years of high school chasing that dream on the basketball court and in the classroom. He grew to be 6-foot-3. He had offers to play basketball after high school, but they came from junior college coaches. Duke basketball coaches never called. So there was a change in plans: Boykin headed to the football field as a senior.
First things first, though. As a football first-timer, he had to learn how to put on the pads.
"My teammates helped me out," said Boykin, a UAB wide receiver who is preparing for his final college football season.
He didn't need help contributing on the field in his lone season as a high school football player. Boykin fit in nicely at wide receiver and safety for Fairfield. Scholarship offers didn't come flowing in, considering he only had one season to showcase his football skills, but he did get offers from a few Football Championship Subdivision teams and Division II programs. He chose to attend the University of North Alabama.
He flourished in his four years in Florence. He had 86 catches for 1,357 yards with 11 touchdowns in three seasons on the field with the Lions. He caught at least one pass in all 25 games he played at UNA and had a pair of game-winning receptions.
It all started with a year to learn.
"My redshirt year helped me a lot," said Boykin, who has gained about 30 pounds and gotten much stronger since entering college. "I was pretty much practicing with the scout team all year. That really got me comfortable at being a football player. Coming out of my redshirt year, I got thrown into the fire. I was starting in 2018. I really had to go with the flow. It grew from there."
It was during the 2020 season that Boykin began thinking about playing at a higher level. UNA played just four games, but three came against Football Bowl Subdivision teams, and the other was against FCS Jacksonville State. He had 13 catches, including six grabs for 56 yards at Southern Miss and three catches for 64 yards at BYU.
"All my games were [okay] against that competition," said Boykin, who got a sports management degree from UNA. "I started to think about it, but there was so much going on, I didn't want to go into the transfer portal at that point. After I finished my career at North Alabama, I just felt it was right."
He had a destination in mind. He wanted to come home and play for the Blazers. However, the UAB offer didn't come until the Blazers went looking for an experienced receiver after RaJae' Johnson-Sanders left for Troy.
"It's huge because one thing I can't coach is experience; that's one thing Dex has," said UAB receivers coach Larry Smith. "He's played multiple years of college football, made a lot of plays at UNA. Just having him here, man, has been a huge excitement. It's been a privilege to coach him."
Boykin jumped in and looked comfortable in spring practice. But the work toward fitting into the UAB program started before practice began.
"Of course, it was an adjustment," Boykin said. "Coach Lyle [Henley] with the weight program, he does a great job. Instantly, I started seeing my game change. Just really going hard in the weight room with him, I knew I was going to be able to play here."
At 6-foot-3 and nearly 220 pounds, he gives UAB a big receiver. Size is not his only strength at the receiver position.
"He's physical, has a big catch radius, can do things with the ball in his hands," Smith said. "He's been all of that and more. He understands different techniques, defenses, being savvy and finding soft spots in a zone. He's been huge for the [wide receiver] room."
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